City Planning Approves Application to Convert Former Hotel Building to Affordable Housing

90 Sands Street Building/Image Credit: Breaking Ground/CPC

The conversion of the former Watchtower hotel will bring 508 residential units to DUMBO, Brooklyn. On February 19, 2020, the City Planning Commission approved an application to rezone a block in DUMBO, Brooklyn from a light manufacturing district to a mixed-use residential and commercial district. The block is bounded by High Street to the north, Sands Street to the south, Jay Street to the east, and Pearl Street to the west. The rezoning would facilitate the conversion of a 29-story former hotel building at 90 Sands Street to a mixed-use residential, commercial, and community facility building. The applicant does not have plans to demolish the existing building or make changes to the building’s height or bulk. The applicant only plans to convert the existing hotel rooms into apartment units. After conversion, the building will have a total of 415 studios and 93 one-bedroom units.

The 90 Sands Street building is 29 stories and rises to a height of 329 feet. The building was formerly owned by Watchtower and used as a hotel for traveling Jehovah Witnesses. The building has 508 hotel rooms that are studios and one-bedroom units. Additionally, the building has a total of approximately 30,000 square feet of commercial or community facility space, located on part of the ground floor and two cellar levels. The building also has a 7,672 square foot plaza fronting Jay Street that is closed off by a fence and masonry wall.

90 Sands Street is one of two buildings located on the block. The other building, 175 Pearl Street, is an eight-story office building and there are currently no plans to redevelop the building.

The application was brought by 90 Sands Street Development Fund, an affiliate of Breaking Ground, a non-profit that develops and operates supportive and affordable housing units in the City. Judith Gallent, Partner and Head of Planning and Zoning at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, and Brenda Rosen, CEO of Breaking Ground, presented the application at the hearing.

The building will have a mix of both supportive housing units for the formerly homeless and affordable housing units. There will be 305 supportive housing units, 202 affordable housing units, and one superintendent’s unit. The affordable housing studio units will be targeted to households making from 30 percent AMI to 100 percent AMI or approximately $25,620 to $85,400 for a two person household. The rents for a studio will range from $504 to $1,600. The affordable housing one-bedroom units will be targeted to households making from 60 percent AMI to 100 percent AMI or approximately $51,240 to $85,400 for a two person household.

There will be on-site social services provided by the Center for Urban Community Services, a non-profit that provides housing, health, and social services programs for the homeless. Services will include case management, primary medical care, mental health services, employment assistance, and benefits counseling and will be available to all residents.

The applicant plans to have multiple tenants use the 30,000 square feet of community facility and commercial use space. Breaking Ground has reached out to food production operators who are interested in the space and also plans to establish a job training program in the space for building residents. The applicant also plans to renovate the 7,672 square feet plaza and make it more accessible to the public by removing part of the fence and masonry wall and include amenities such as seating and plantings.

On December 11, 2019, Brooklyn Community Board 2 unanimously voted to approve the application.

On January 15, 2020, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams approved the application. Borough President Adams supports the project because it creates more affordable housing for the Downtown Brooklyn area, which needs more affordable and stable housing, and provides permanent housing opportunities for the formerly homeless.

On January 22, 2020, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the application. In response to Commissioner Anna Hayes Levin’s question on whether the affordable housing units and supportive housing units would be grouped together, Brenda Rosen stated that the units would be distributed throughout the building.

Commissioner David Burney asked the applicants if there would be any internal changes or changes to the building’s floor plan. David Beer, the vice president of Breaking Ground, stated that the applicant plans to maintain the existing layout of the units but they will alter five percent of the units to make them fully accessible.

No members of the public testified at the public hearing.

City Planning approved this application on February 19, 2020.


By: May Vutrapongvatana (May is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019).

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